Young people can’t catch a break! During a panel discussion at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday night Peta Credlin, the former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, called out young people and their level of engagement with politics, saying that young people who cast an informal vote have no right to moan about the government that forms.
She’s not the first person to have a go at young people in this context, just the most recent. According to this article, Credlin argued that many people lack “the fundamental building blocks” of how democracy works, and that, with the internet, young people had more means at their disposal than ever to understand party policies and politics.
“Because, in the end, you will inherit all the good things that government has done, and you’ll get the mess as well. There was a report showing a growth in the amount of young people voting informally. That’s an abrogation of your responsibility. If you want to moan, vote and own it.”
Sure, that’s one way of looking at it. However, the report that Credlin likely references, actually paints a pretty different picture.
Research suggests this isn’t because they don’t care
According to University of Adelaide researchers, there is indeed a rise in informal voting, which is when someone deliberately hands in a blank or defaced ballot, as opposed to simply making a mistake in filling it out. Based on figures from the 2013 federal election, it’s at its highest level since 1984, having made up 5.9% of all votes. And according to their research, this number probably is driven by the young—they found a correlation between a greater number of informal votes and electorates with more people aged 18 to 24.
However, what Credlin didn’t mention is, this report goes on to conclude that one of the major reasons for an increase in informal voting is not that people don’t want the information. And not because they’re apathetic. And it’s also not because they don’t understand the political process. It’s that young people feel like policies don’t include them.
According to the report, young people tend to have lower levels of party allegiance and don’t see much difference between the major political parties. They feel dissatisfied by and alienated from the mainstream political process.
Lead author, politics professor Lisa Hill said “[young people] are moving towards alternative, more protest-based, individualised, sporadic and direct forms of engagement like signing online petitions, participating in internet campaigns [and] consumer boycotts”
So what does this tell us?
How young people are engaging with politics
First of all, we are showing that we want to be involved. The recent spike in young people enrolling to vote shows us that young people can be engaged in the political process and having a say on issues that impact them. Essentially, when you actively work to get young people engaged in politics they respond.
We’ve seen even younger people getting involved, like with this petition, started by two 16-year-olds, who want to have the option to vote.
As highlighted in the University of Adelaide’s report, young people are likely disengaged with major political parties because they don’t feel represented, hence a rise in informal voting.
Leaders need to start listening and take action to equip young people for the challenges we face and issues that affect us. At present, policies around young people are often considered in isolation and placed at the edge of public policy. FYA called for them to be placed front and centre in our recent report card, Renewing Australia’s Promise.
Who is doing this well?
That being said, there are actual instances of information being presented to young people in a way that’s useful and speaks to us. And others should take note.
These shining pillars of real talk can be found in Vice’s election guide which has excellent ongoing coverage; Hack Live’s recent episode, The War on Young People, which showed that the issues affecting young people are complex and wide ranging; or even The Feed, who are doing live shows from swinging electorates across the country.
These examples all show that there is a thirst for election coverage and knowledge to be presented for young people. We want to be actively involved in the political process, we just want some policies that involve us.
Want to do something about it?
If you’re based in Victoria, then we’ve got an event for you. Parliament of Victoria and FYA’s YLab are inviting 30 young Victorians aged 18-30 to join them in a co-design event called Democracy for Millenials. It takes place next Monday July 4 from 10am to 3pm at Parliament House in Melbourne.
The workshop is a rare opportunity for young people to have a direct conversation with Parliament and MPs, so they can design potential changes and recommendations together to help make Parliament more relevant and accessible for young people. Register via the link below.